Immigrants & Internationals Advisory Council

The Allegheny County Immigrants and Internationals Advisory Council (IIAC) is a diverse, representative group of immigrant leaders, service providers and other stakeholders who identify issues of concern and changes in the needs of immigrant and international communities. IIAC is supported by the Equity and Inclusion Team within the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS). When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, staff and the entire council membership had to pivot to respond to the massive needs created by the virus and to ensure that the response was appropriate for its constituencies.

Early in the crisis, listening sessions were conducted with a number of communities with complex needs: Immigrants and Internationals, Latinx, Black, Religious and LGBTQ+. The most pressing need identified during the sessions was accurate, straightforward guidance provided in a language and context that residents of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) communities could trust and understand. The team quickly connected with three DHS-contracted language service providers (Trustpoint One, Hearing and Deaf Service (HDS)/Pittsburgh Language Access Network (PLAN), and Language Line Solutions) to translate this guidance into the six most frequently spoken languages (Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Nepalese, Russian and Swahili)[1]. These providers stepped up immediately, working remotely and by phone to quickly respond to translation requests, often within 24 hours. Council members vetted all translated material and reached out to staff when they identified needs within their networks.

A key component of making information available to these communities – and something that was strongly encouraged during the listening sessions – was ensuring that it was being delivered in a culturally acceptable way by community leaders and representatives sanctioned by the community. The Neighborhood Resilience Project, an new IIAC partnership that emerged from the pandemic, worked with its network (including DHS, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the University of Pittsburgh, and Carlow University) to build a team of about 100 volunteer community health deputies. More than 30 of the deputies, who are charged with spreading accurate information about COVID-19, checking on people within their community and remaining vigilant to identify signs of trauma, are internationals and immigrants. The Project continues to train new community health deputies on a weekly basis and provides ongoing support and up-to-date information to all its volunteers.

IIAC members did whatever they could to support their communities. For example, Dr. Tamare Piersaint, who represents L’Union Fait La Force and Pittsburgh’s Haitian community on the Council, reached out to her various networks (e.g., California University, Rodman Street Baptist Church, the mental health community) and developed online resources, including virtual story times for children, panel presentations and videos about mental health self-care, and training for community leaders. She also coordinated a mask-making event, sponsored by her church, to equip community members and professionals. Every Council member could share a similar story, and together, they have created a continuum of supportive services for the communities they represent. Post COVID-19, the lessons learned during the pandemic will continue to inform their work and that of DHS’s Equity and Inclusion team.

[1] Trustpoint One and Global Wordsmiths, an Advisory Council member, provided some services pro bono.